Osprey Poco vs. Thule Chariot vs. Kinder Shuttle pulk review (cross country ski)
What is the best child carrier for cross country skiing? There are several options on the market, and each has its pros and cons. Continue reading to see what we liked about each model.
I’ve been a Birkie and Vasaloppet racer for many years, and I wanted to continue cross country skiing and racing after the birth of my son in 2017. After talking with my skiing friends who had kids, it seemed like the Thule Chariot was the most recommended mode of toddler transportation on skis. I was lucky enough to find a used Chariot for sale near me, and I made the purchase for about $200.
When using rental equipment while skiing in AZ, we used a Kinder Shuttle pulk for a day, so we have experience towing our toddler with that device as well.
We also own an Osprey Poco backpack carrier that we primarily use for hiking and snowshoeing. I hadn’t thought about using the Poco for skiing, but after hearing a few stories about people cross-country skiing and even downhill skiing with a backpack carrier, I decided to give it a try.
The results of my experiences with the Poco, the Chariot, and the Kinder Shuttle are below. [pictures of each are included at end of post]
Thule Chariot tow-behind on skis: The Chariot is easy to use and our Little A doesn’t seem to mind riding in it. With some modifications, it works well even in cold weather. Check out my tips for using a Chariot in winter at the bottom of this post. Towing the carrier makes my workout about twice as difficult with half the speed, but with a big effort you can still cover long distances, go up and down hills, and go fast on the flats. It’s a great equalizer if you and your training partner have different speeds. One more “plus” for the Chariot is its ability to be adapted for even newborns by adding the “infant sling”. A couple of issues with the Chariot are its bulkiness (especially for stowing in the car) and relatively poor maneuverability on tight trails. All in all, however, it is very doable and feels safe for both the skier and passenger.
Thule Chariot roller skiing: The Thule Chariot can also be used for roller skiing. Attach the bike carrier wheels to the back and the skiing tow harness to the front and you're off. It works surprisingly well!
Osprey Poco backpack: For my first test with the Poco, Little A and I went out to the lake behind our house where we have a 1.5km loop groomed for skating. The snow had just refrozen after a warm day, and the skate deck was fast. The first thing I noticed was the speed. You can move just about as fast with the Poco on the flat lake as you can without any additional weight. This meant that I was hearing a lot of “wows!” and “oohs!” as we got going. On the down side, there is a lot of extra strain on your joints due to the extra weight. The backpack plus toddler added up to 32 pounds (and will eventually reach 50+ lbs as he grows), and I could really feel it in my knees. There are a couple of other problems with the Poco. Since there is no windshield, there is no protection from the cold wind, and with the little one just sitting there, he’s not creating enough body heat to make up for the cold. Even on a calm and mild day, the speed I generated created a significant wind chill for my passenger. Balance is also an issue. Carrying all that extra weight 4 feet off the ground well behind your center of mass meant I really had to adjust my stance to keep an even keel. I also think a fall while wearing a child in the back pack would be pretty dangerous for both parties (thankfully, this remains a theory as we have always remained upright). Overall, it is possible to ski with a Poco, but it is best on fairly flat ground at modest speed in an area without hazards such as overhanging tree branches or exposure to drops. [Editor’s note: Your physician spouse / the passenger’s mom strongly recommends against the Poco for future skiing and requests no more “safety testing” or “experimenting” with Little A.]
Wilderness Engineering Kinder Shuttle pulk:
While the concept is similar to the Chariot, the KinderShuttle is more of a covered utility sled. As a result of it not having it's own skis, there is a lot more friction than with the Chariot and no suspension for the rider. However, it is much safer and more controlled than just pulling a kid in a basic sled with a rope. On our outing using the Kinder Shuttle, our toddler did not find it as comfortable as his usual ride, the Chariot. On the positive side, it does offer excellent protection from the wind and elements with it's full-surround, seamless windshield/cab. And, at only a fraction the cost of a Chariot ski set-up, it is an option worth considering.
Thule Chariot -- over $1000 with ski kit (or try to find one used)
Osprey Poco -- $250
Wilderness Engineering Kinder Shuttle -- $399
Ski with the Thule Chariot (1st choice) or Kinder Shuttle (2nd choice) and keep the Poco for snowshoeing and hiking.
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My tips for getting the most out of your Chariot in winter:
Make a clear vinyl windshield if yours does not come equipped with this. Many of the older chariots did not come with a windshield at all, and some of the newer ones have a bug-screen or piece of vinyl that is no longer clear (if it is out in the weather too long, vinyl will get very cloudy). To make a windshield, order a piece of 20ga vinyl and some Velcro self stick patches. Cut the vinyl to size and apply the Velcro at the correct locations. I’ve posted a picture of the one I made for Little A.
Glide wax the carrier skis. It takes so much effort to move the carrier that you will be grateful for any reduction in drag coefficient.
Buy the Infant Sling (if your child still fits in the weight range of the sling). The infant sling suspends the child so that you can tuck blankets all around. It also provides for a smoother ride as there is quite a bit of movement back in the carrier. Most importantly, the sling ensures small infants are securely buckled for a safe ride.
[Updated 1/22/19 to include the Kinder Shuttle pulk]
[Updated 10/9/19 to include roller skiing]